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Charlie Hebdo: “I’d Rather Die Standing Than Live On My Knees”

I'd rather die standing than live on my knees

Photo courtesy of SplitShire.

“I’d Rather Die Standing Than Live On My Knees”

This is a quote was stated by editor Stéphane Charbonnier of the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, who was killed on January 7, 2015, along with 11 colleagues by Islamic extremists thought to be acting on behalf of Yemen’s al-Qaida branch who opened gunfire on the publication’s office. These extremists did not agree with the content put out by the magazine and wanted to seek “vengeance for the prophet,” as Charlie Hebdo was known for making fun of everyone from presidents to the Pope to the Prophet Muhammad. Charbonnier was no stranger to death threats, firebombings in 2011 and even being included on the Al Qaeda propaganda magazine Inspire’s list of people “Wanted Dead or Alive for Crimes Against Islam.” While I can’t speculate on the content of the magazine as I wasn’t a regular reader, I can’t help but feel inspired by Charbonnier’s mentality, his refusal to be scared into silence or to stop living his life the way he believed it should be led. I also think it’s amazing how the murderer’s attempts to silence the press only made Charlie Hebdo and its followers louder. A magazine that was on the verge of going bankrupt and barely selling even half of the copies it printed each week is now receiving support from individuals and groups all over the world, and being viewed as a symbol of strength. In fact, the magazine’s latest “Survivors’ Issue” cover depicts the Prophet Muhammad crying and holding a sign saying “I am Charlie” and below “All is forgiven” (in French). Continuing the topic of terrorism, today I saw a CNN interview with Marine Medal of Honor recipient Dakota Meyer that discussed how ISIS may now be targeting the US military at home. The FBI is warning military members and their families to get rid of their social media accounts, out of fear it may give terrorists too much information. Meyer’s response? dakota It’s not that he isn’t taking the threat seriously, or that he doesn’t care about himself or his fellow servicemen and women; it’s that he doesn’t believe submitting to fear — especially against “a bunch of cowards” — is the right approach. “I’m just tired of us as Americans living in fear,” he said. “I want people to know: Stand up to this; stand up to these people. I don’t want to put anybody else in harm. They can come after me,” he told The Military Times.

So, what does this have to do with travel? A lot.

There’s no doubt we live in scary times, and the world can often be a terrifying place. When we’re not worrying about terrorists and religious extremists, we’re fearing plane crashes and Taken-style kidnappings. Reading the news, it can be very frightening to purchase that plane ticket and head off to a destination you have no first-hand impression of. Lately my parents have been getting really worried about me traveling, even to “safe” destinations like Germany and Italy. After eight years of solo travel they’re confident in my abilities to take care of myself on the road and make wise decisions; however, it unnerves them that they can’t control the actions of the wackos I may encounter on the road. So as I see it I have two choices. 1) Barricade myself into my New York City apartment which, in all honesty, isn’t much safer than traveling as I live in a semi-rough neighborhood and a terrorist-targeted city. Or 2) Choose to live my life as I see fit, forgetting fear without forgetting my street smarts.

In the words of Stéphane Charbonnier, “I’d Rather Die Standing Than Live On My Knees.”

Life is short no matter what way you slice it. I truly believe we make it shorter — whether we live to be 30 or 300 — by not taking risks and not following our hearts. Go toward the path that’s calling you, and don’t let anyone else scare you into not following your journey.
I'd Rather Die Standing Than Live on My Knees

Proud to be a New Yorker. Here I am enjoying street art in Bushwick, Brooklyn.

While I’m sure there are many who might be afraid to visit Paris right now after all that’s happened, I think it’s the perfect time to go. Show your support. The destination hasn’t changed. It’s still a beautiful place with beautiful people, that was unfortunately victim to a very catastrophic situation. Growing up in New York, I can somewhat relate. I still remember being in high school, watching the 9/11 attacks unfolding right before my eyes on the television screen, having my friends being called to the principal’s office because their parents were scared or, worse, trapped in the attack. I remember my friend who’s father was a New York City firefighter, and how he told me there was “no way my dad will die.” He did. I remember all of the feelings of terror and sadness and camaraderie afterward. Right after, there were people who lived near me on Long Island who were afraid to make the journey into NYC. My mom and I made the trip, because we hated the idea of letting these terrible people win.
I'd Rather Die Standing Than Live on My Knees

Exploring Amman, the capital of Jordan, and enjoying the view from the Citadel (Jabal al-Qal’a).

I also can’t help but think of all of the beauty that is still in the world. Stories about friendly locals, culturally immersive homestays and successful round-the-world flights typically don’t make headlines; however, these positive experiences are much more prevalent than the bad ones. For instance, I remember family and friends terrifying me before my trip to Jordan, as they didn’t feel safe with me going to the Middle East. In reality, I felt completely at ease during my two weeks through the country, with so many instances of being welcoming by locals (I was even invited into a Bedouin tent for fresh goat milk while hiking through the desert). A blogger named Shara has also guest posted on Jessie on a Journey about Iran being a misunderstood country, as she had a terrific experience. Don’t let anyone — especially terrorist groups that feed off of your fear — tell you how to live your life. Explore the beauty and positivity that still exists in this world and let it remind you that there is still good and humanity to be found.

What are your thoughts? I would love to hear in the comments below.

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About Jessie Festa

Jessie Festa is an New York-based travel content creator who is passionate about empowering her audience to experience new places and live a life of adventure. She is the founder of the solo female travel blog, Jessie on a Journey, and is editor-in-chief of Epicure & Culture, an online conscious tourism magazine. Along with writing, Jessie is a professional photographer and is the owner of NYC Photo Journeys, which offers New York photo tours, photo shoots, and wedding photography. Her work has appeared in publications like USA Today, CNN, Business Insider, Thrillist, and WestJet Magazine.

Jessie Festa standing in front of grafitti wall

Hi, I’m Jessie on a journey!

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  1. Mariana on at 4:00 pm

    This was lovely Jessie! Well put.

    • jess2716 on at 5:42 am

      @Mariana: Thank you! 🙂

  2. vanessa on at 2:36 pm

    Great article!
    I live in Paris so this speaks to me a lot, one month after those terrible events took place. I’ve never been afraid while traveling on my own, granted I haven’t been to any so called dangerous places yet, or at least to me, and up until January 7th I never feared my own city. But that changed in the next few days following that attack. I remember one specific moment as I was walking in a deserted street, with my headphones on when suddenly a man came out of a building running…My first reaction was to stop dead in my track, my heart beating way too fast. The second was to tell myself that I was an idiot. This goes to show how tense people, myself included, were, you could just feel the tension in the air. Thankfully a week later I was off for a 10 days trip during which I stopped in St Barts (as part of a Music Cruise), and that’s when I fell in love with the world all over again, not that I stopped or anything, but that element of ‘fear’ that was in the far back of my mind subsided. The first thing I saw was on a big white wall a sentence: ‘Je Suis Charlie’. It wasn’t the last I saw, or the last I’ve heard of it when people learned that I was from Paris. The outpouring of love and support from strangers was further proof that good people exist, and that you should not let some deranged people who use religion as a weapon install a fear of the world and the people that live in it. My fear was short lived, it was a natural reaction to something so horrible happening in the place you call home, but it left me even more eager to wander this earth because in between all the crazyness and uglyness, there is beauty, in both nature and people.
    ‘I’d rather die standing than live on my knees.’ Indeed!

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